Harry Rutherford's Reviews > How Life Imitates Chess. by Garry Kasparov with MIG Greengard

How Life Imitates Chess. by Garry Kasparov with MIG Greengard by Garry Kasparov
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Mar 29, 09

bookshelves: around-the-world, central-asia

How Life Imitates Chess uses examples from Kasparov’s chess career as well as business and history to illustrate points about, for example, the value of preparation, and analysing your own weaknesses.

As long as he’s talking about chess, I found it really interesting. The psychology of chess, the different approaches different players take, the preparation that goes into a big match at the top level; when he’s talking about chess, he’s engaging and insightful. The self-help aspect I found less convincing.

Partially I suspect that’s because, despite the long history of chess metaphors, chess isn’t actually a very good model for many other human activities. It’s a completely zero-sum game; for one plater to win, the other has to lose. Each chess game starts in exactly the same way, with both players having exactly equal resources and position save only the advantage of playing white. There is no unknown information and no element of chance. It is exceptionally well-suited to rigorous analysis, with information about past performances available with an accuracy that makes baseball statistics look vague and wishy-washy. These qualities are what make it such a fascinating game, but they are also ways in which it is quite unlike, say, running a business.

I also think his heart isn’t really in it. His examples from business and history are very obvious ones and he doesn’t make much attempt to develop them in any detail; his conclusions are plausible enough but often a bit superficial. I don’t think this book was born out of a deep desire to teach people ‘lessons about mastering the strategic and emotional skills to navigate life’s toughest challenges and maximise success no matter how tough the competition’, as the blurb puts it. It was written to make money from Kasparov’s reputation. I gather from the book that he has been working the circuit giving talks to businessmen and the book was presumably born out of that. It feels like it is fundamentally a sideline for him compared to his real passions of writing about chess and campaigning in Russian politics.

But, still, I thought it was well worth reading for the chess bits, which he manages to make interesting and informative while requiring no real chess knowledge in the reader. I would have preferred a straight autobiography, but I still enjoyed the book.
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